RALEIGH — East Surry won all three softball games Saturday to take its fourth-straight 1A state championship.
The Lady Cards staved off elimination time and again to earn their sixth state title in the past 13 seasons.
The Cards won their first game Friday, but lost a close 2-1 decision later that night. In the double-elimination format, the team couldn’t afford another loss.
After beating Princeton 2-1 in the morning, the Cards returned to the field just minutes later to face the same Pamlico team that had beaten them the night before.
The temperature was up to 90 degrees under a draining sun. The Cards were in their second game while the Lady Hurricanes were fresh.
The Canes took a 2-0 lead in the first inning.
The Cards had Kelsey Wilson on second when Christian Smith went down looking at a pitch that was up around her chin.
The crowd booed its displeasure, and not long after, Cardinals Coach Derrick Hill had words with the home plate umpire over the official speaking to Hill’s catcher, Juli Bullington.
Things seemed to be falling apart after a great season. Parents already had excuses ready for why the girls were cheated out of a title.
Pamlico’s Katie Lachman hit a long fly ball to left that looked like it might go out and push the lead to 3-0.
Then one good play seemed to turn the tide. Leftfielder Kelsey Wilson, who made several good defensive plays over the weekend, ran backwards and reached up to snag the ball and save a double.
Christian Smith started off the next inning with a single, and Pamlico started to show some chinks in the armor. A couple of errors and some hustle on the basepaths let two runners home to tie the game.
The teams would go back and forth for the rest of the game, but East pulled it out 7-5 and forced a rematch for 4 p.m.
The Cards had finished their second match of the day, and moms were rushing around with drinks and fresh fruit to rehydrate the team in the scant hour before the final game.
In their first at-bat, East threatened. Evelyn Wells singled up the middle, and Jessica Barker sacrificed her to second. Beth Isaacs hit a high chopper to third and beat out the play.
Cleanup hitter Bullington hit a liner up the middle, but the pitcher just caught a bit of the ball with her glove. The tip slowed the ball down enough for the shortstop to catch the deflection for one out and throw to first to double off Isaacs.
In the second, Kristen Cummings singled and took second on a passed ball. Brooke Bowman walked to put two on with two outs. Sarah Scott doubled to bring home one.
On a passed ball, Bowman and Scott both scored to give the Cards a 3-0 lead.
Then the fatigue started to show.
With a runner on, Scott made a throwing error on a grounder. Then when Bowman reached the ball in right field and threw back to the infield, the low throw got past Wells at second. The runner from first went all the way around to score.
A short blooper in front of the second base bag dropped between Barker and Wells when no one called for the ball. Then a grounder to second wasn’t fielded.
By the end of the inning, the Cards were trailing 4-3 and might have given up.
Instead, Wells atoned for her fielding error with a leadoff single. Barker slammed a home run over the leftfield fence, but the umpire called it foul. The Pilot Mountain crowd again booed mightily, and Barker eventually struck out.
Then Wells stole second and continued to third on a bad throw. Isaacs walked to give Bullington another chance to drive in runs.
She made the most of it, doubling over the centerfielder’s head to score both.
Wilson followed with an RBI single to left, and when the leftfielder bobbled the ball, Wilson went to second.
Pamlico finally shut the door, but the Cards were up 6-4.
In the bottom of the sixth, Pamlico’s Lachman looked exhausted on the mound even though she had thrown far less innings than Isaacs that day. Lachman walked Smith to start the inning.
Bowman squared for a sacrifice bunt. She hit the ball fairly hard and toward the vacant hole at second. Smith made it all the way to third, and on the throw there Bowman made it to second.
Pamlico subbed out Lachman, and her replacement, Taylor Andrews, walked Wells and Barker to bring in Smith.
Isaacs followed with a two-run double to push the lead to 9-4 going into the last at-bat.
Pamlico refused to go softly, putting together two singles and a two-run double by Darian Roberts that made it 9-6.
A single up the middle brought home Roberts, but Isaacs finished the game for a 9-7 win.
Isaacs finished the two-day tournament with 34 innings pitched and did her own baserunning while other pitchers came out for courtesy runners.
“I looked out there at one point and thought ‘How’s this kid doing this?’” said Hill.
The coach said he thought about trying to rest her a little, maybe letting someone else finish when the team had a lead in the earlier games. He thought about swapping her with another player for a couple of innings to rest her, then bringing her back to finish the final game.
No way, said Isaacs. The senior and Northwest Conference player of the year refused to come out.
In the three games Saturday, she had three different umpires and three strike zones.
She adjusted well in every game after a couple of rough opening innings, Hill noted.
This team could have folded Friday night, he said. They could have given up a few times on Saturday, but they kept battling back, he noted.
While Isaacs was invaluable as usual, it was Wilson’s play in the field and at the plate that caught the attention of the opposing coaches and the media gathered in the press room in the radio tower. The sophomore outfielder was named MVP of the 1-A championship.
With the win, East Surry’s senior class of Bullington, Isaacs, Smith and Paula Kiser finished their careers with a perfect score of four state titles.